2011-09-15 / Local & State

Pennsylvania Owed Millions In Fines

THE (ALLENTOWN) MORNING CALL

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Licensed professionals owe the state of Pennsylvania millions of dollars in unpaid fines for a variety of rules violations, ranging from minor registration errors to murder, state records show.

More than a third of fines assessed since 2008 remain outstanding, according to records from the Pennsylvania Department of State's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, which licenses workers and businesses in 29 professions, from doctors to funeral directors to real estate appraisers. In all, $2.7 million of the $6 million in fines assessed since 2008 are unpaid.

Bucks County barber Brian White refilled the state's coffers to the tune of $1,350 this year after he was charged with operating with an expired license and having some unlicensed facilities. White said some of the charges against him were unfair, saying he was cited for a part of his barber shop that he was in the process of shutting down. He appealed but lost, he said.

Now, he just needs his license to live.

“I just had to suck it up and pay it,” he said.

According to the state, cosmetologists were the most heavily fined professionals, totaling $1.1 million in assessments since 2008.

That's because unlicensed salons are quick to pop up, said Janet Thomas, president of the Pennsylvania Barber and Cosmetology Association. State inspectors, she said, “only get a minute part of what's happening . It's really a concern for us.”

Customers could be at risk because salons deal with harsh chemicals, and unlicensed operators often lack liability insurance, said Thomas, who owns a shop in Luzerne County.

Customers looking for a reputable establishment should be able to easily find its license, which has to be publicly posted, she said. However, employees do not have to display their personal licenses, she said.

Among the licensee groups, radiology personnel racked up $5,000 in fines but paid none, the records show. For more heavily fined professions, social workers paid only $27,850 of more than $83,000 in fines – a 33.4 percent rate.

On the other side, licensed speech and hearing therapists paid all of their $17,400 fines, records show.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, said it's unrealistic to expect that all fines will be paid. “With any law enforcement agency there is a percentage of fines that are uncollected,” he said.

Some fines, for instance, are levied against people practicing a profession without a license. Collecting fines on those individuals is difficult because they are outside the licensing board's reach, Ruman said.

“While efforts are made to collect all fines . the first responsibility we have is to protect the public health and safety by getting that individual to stop doing what they aren't licensed to do,” he said. “Once we achieve that, we certainly work to collect any fines levied, but in many cases, these people move on to other states, for example, and can make it hard to collect.”

It's unclear how effective Pennsylvania is at collecting payments. The National Association of Secretaries of State does not have standards for fine collection. Communications Director Kay Stimson said states are not uniform in which professions they regulate.

Licensing boards at times have to get in line to collect. The state Board of Funeral Directors last month revoked the license of Michael A. Roseboro of Lancaster County and fined him $2,000. Roseboro has been in jail since 2009 for murdering his wife.

Most fines are for less serious acts. Reading notary Nancy Wagner paid a $250 fine after she failed to verify a person's identity on documentation.

“It was a stupid error,” she said. “I've been doing this for 40 years.”

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